Humble and hungry, J.J. McCarthy working while he bides his time

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The backup quarterback at Michigan has always had a certain level of popularity, but it’s a different animal with J.J. McCarthy.

The former five-star has long been awaited as the potential game-changer at the position, and while fans have been clamoring to see more and more of him, he’s been fine biding his time, waiting for his number to be called. Which it has sporadically in the first six games of the season.

“In chapel, I forget what chapel it was, but Pastor Robby was talking about this one story of a kid at a concert and before he left to go to the concert, he brought his guitar pick with him,” McCarthy said. “And he’s going to the concert along with 10,000 other people, 15,000 other people, and he’s got that guitar pick in his pocket the whole time. And, what do you know — I forgot which band it was — they asked, ‘Who knows this song? Come up and play this song!’ And he was picked out of the crowd and had his guitar pick. That analogy really stuck because we’re doing everything we possibly can to get in the game. We’re not expecting to get in the game, we’re just ready no matter what. We got our guitar pick in our pocket and we’ll be ready to go when we’re called.”

As often said by Michigan basketball head coach Juwan Howard, stay ready and you don’t have to get ready. Well, McCarthy has been staying quite ready the past few weeks.

Even with the past two contests being road games, no matter what time the team arrived back in Ann Arbor, McCarthy and some of his fellow true freshmen made sure to head out to Al Glick Fieldhouse to get some extra work in. That includes returning from the night game in Lincoln, Nebraska — a game where the team didn’t depart the stadium until after midnight local time before taking the two-hour flight home.

As the weeks have passed, more and more of McCarthy’s classmates have joined in, getting a little extra practice in before the new week starts in earnest.

“I’d have to say it was me and Dono (Edwards), for sure. And then Andrel was there, he hopped in this past week. And Cristian Dixon hopped in,” McCarthy said. “Hopefully we can get some more guys out there. It was definitely interesting at 4:30 in the morning out there! It was a cool experience, but it was awesome seeing the guys want to get the same work. Just chasing greatness, that’s what we’re doing. It doesn’t matter what age we are, we’ve been chasing that since we were young’uns.”

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While he may somewhat be the big man on campus, McCarthy doesn’t hold himself in that regard. Rather humble, despite his high school accolades and lofty recruiting ranking, he recognizes that he still has a lot to learn.

Though he was in a competition with Cade McNamara in the offseason and generally hasn’t found himself battling to be the starting quarterback at any level, McCarthy has taken it not only in stride, but he’s using it as an opportunity to understand more about the position since McNamara already knows the ropes.

“My relationship with Cade has been really awesome. It’s been unique, something I’ve never experienced before because I’ve been kind of the guy my whole career,” McCarthy said. “It’s a little similar to my freshman year. But someone like Cade is someone that I look up to, up to as preparation, as a leader. I’ve just been doing a lot of observing of how he is around the team and around the coaches. It’s been really good, really good for me.”

But that doesn’t mean he isn’t already well-recognized. He realized pretty quickly just how popular he is once he set foot in the stadium in uniform early on.

“Kinda. I don’t want to say that I have, but I saw these one kids paint their chests before the game,” McCarthy said. “That was really cool, just to know we have the best fans in the country, honestly. These fans are awesome. They’ve been awesome since Day 1, win or lose. It’s just been really cool to be around them, for sure.”

But he isn’t just recognized before games, but on campus as well. McCarthy doesn’t shy away from the spotlight, though — he embraces it. He sees it as an opportunity to connect more with fans who connect to his newfound team through him.

“It’s really awesome, because I feel like me being committed for so long and me being loyal to this university and this program for so long has been huge for the fans,” McCarthy said. “I love the heck out of them, so it’s kind of one of those things: treat others how you want to be treated. I don’t know, I just feel like that might have something to do with it. I hear a little bit of it for sure, and definitely around on campus, but I try to let everyone know I’m just as normal as you. We’re all human beings here and just try to develop relationships with the fans as much as possible.”

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